The Seven Cities of the Apocalypse and Greco-Asian Culture and The Seven Cities of the Apocalypse and Roman Culture (New York: Paulist Press, 1999, 219 pp and 142 pp, plus end notes, bibliographies and indices. Available from AD Books at $79.95 each)
Cultural backgrounds in which New Testament books were written
A recent attempt by the reviewer to explain to a twelve-year-old a world without the internet and e-mail, personal computers, faxes and CD players was met with bemusement and disbelief. Yet here, the author was merely trying to explain 1970s culture!
However, in the case of the New Testament, this problem intensifies if we allow our cultural assumptions to be imposed upon texts written in the Mediterranean world of the first century AD.
Roland Worth, an American scholar, explores the Greco-Asian and Roman backgrounds to the Book of the Apocalypse in these companion volumes. He argues that in order to fully understand the New Testament message, one must try to reconstruct, as best we can, the cultural background in which the books of the New Testament were written. For these books contain subtle nuances reflecting contemporary customs and thought patterns, which need to be grasped if we are to interpret the full meaning of a given text.
In the first volume, each of the seven cities is analysed in turn, with readers introduced to some of the complexities of reconstructing the social and cultural background behind a given passage of Scripture.
The early chapters of the second volume, The Seven Cities of the Apocalypse and Roman Culture, focus upon Roman government and culture. By the end of the first century AD, parts of Asia Minor (or what is modern day Turkey) had been under Roman rule for between a century-and-a-half and over two centuries.
The survey provided helps acquaint the reader with a portrait of the world to which the Apostles first preached the Good News, and the early Christian communities, many of whom were in Asia Minor, emerged.
Worth then explores issues relating to the authorship and writing of the Apocalypse, before examining the nature of persecution against early Christian communities - Christians being liable to be punished for their refusal to participate in the worship of the Emperor. He argues there is no evidence to suggest any systematic, province-wide persecution of Christians. What is interesting is that many terms Christians use in connection with Jesus were also connected with the Imperial Cult, such as saviour, son of God, epiphany and gospel.
These two books would be useful for anyone wishing for a deeper understanding of Scripture backgrounds, particularly in courses of study on the New Testament.